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Best You: Students learn mindfulness, meditation in Brebeuf class

Students of all ages at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School can choose to take the course that teaches ways to cope with stress, emotions and thoughts.

INDIANAPOLIS — So many students signed up for a new class on mindfulness and meditation at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School that the administration quickly added a second offering.

It's an elective class with credit and it's open to all grade levels. The focus is providing students with skills to cope with stress, emotions and thoughts and create a mindset where they can be their best. 

"A best me is not thinking about my emotions too much and being able to be there for myself and others," said freshman Eli Aldrich.

The teachers, Michelle Martin and Kris Schwickrath, are certified mindfulness instructors.

"I wish every student would have this opportunity," Martin said. "I just think about the kids and I think about how difficult life is now."

The students meet for one hour a day, three days a week. The desks are set aside and the students sit in a circle on yoga mats.

They start with meditation and then write in their journal as a response to the thought of the day.

The day 13News stopped by, the prompt was a quote by Allan Lokos: "Don't believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that, thoughts."

Some of the students shared what they wrote in their journals, while others opted to keep it private. The main discussion of the day was about processing feedback.

"We have a negativity bias in our brain," Martin said, adding that we hold onto negative information and let go of positive information.

She went on to talk about how thoughts impact emotions and affect your body. The students shared they often have negative thoughts, so they were encouraged to look for and reinforce the positives, embody the moment, and over time rewire their reactions.

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"I signed up for this class because I wanted to learn how to manage my stress better and I wanted to have tools to do that throughout high school and college in the future," Aldrich said. "Especially with the pandemic, there is a lot of new challenges that weren't there before."

The teachers say the pandemic has only amplified student stress.

"I also see it as a reset I think we can look at things in a new way. There is another way to do things, so this is the time," Schwickrath said.

In addition to remote learning challenges, the students face constant peer and grade pressure and are simultaneously managing expectations from teachers, coaches, and parents.

Michael Szwed is a senior, which has him feeling some pressure.

"People want to know what you want to do for the rest of your life; where I am going to go to school for the next four years," Szwed said. "They are expecting you to plan out your career, plan out what you are going to do for the rest of your life."

The curriculum teaches deep breathing, taking a step back, and responding instead of reacting. It's led to more self-awareness.

"When we talk about feelings and emotions, it kind of made me realize like how mad I get at the little things," said junior Eilidh Ferries-Rowe. "I kind of have a short fuse — which is not good — but it kind of made me realize what I can do to manage that."

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Spending time in nature and away from screens is also encouraged. Later this spring, Martin plans to take the students outside for class.

"We did an activity where we looked out our window on a snow day and just finding like joy in everything around us and the people around us is something that I think we learned and I've learned to appreciate a lot in this class," said junior Kendall Claymon.

"What I want the students to be able to do is be their best self," Martin said. "I want them to be able to be happy, to be at peace on the inside and find that inside instead of looking out around them."